Imagine 'joga bonito' for boys and girls
RIO DE JANEIRO -- For all of us -- the moms and girls of the Title IX generation -- here is one reminder from a world away of just how lucky we are: While growing up, we never stopped to question if we had a right to play. We just played.
Here in Brazil, the host of the 2014 World Cup, futebol is not just a way of life -- it is life. In discussions of the sport's place in Brazilian culture, it has been called a religion, an obsession, the altar at which all people pray. Yet there is a another side of Brazilian futebol that does not get discussed enough: The forgotten futebol.
Because life is much different for a young girl in Brazil who shares the simple dream to play. In fact, her family might tell her she shouldn't be playing futebol -- it's not for girls. Then aunts and uncles tell her to play something more feminine, such as netball. Friends might even snicker at the fact that she actually wants to play.
And ultimately, she will hear: Yes, this country loves futebol, but that is for the men, dear.
Thankfully, dreams don't take kindly to being swept under a rug. Just ask Barbara Battagin, a 16-year-old Brazilian who dared to dream of one day playing futebol for her country. She lives on a farm an hour outside of Sao Paulo and is the oldest of three kids. She drives 45 minutes on a bumpy, dirt road just to get to school and talks of one day playing in a World Cup, like Marta, the star of the Brazilian women's soccer team and five-time FIFA World Player of the Year.
The difference with Barbara is she has a family who encourage her to play. The problem for Barbara is she has no place to play. And she is not alone. Like Barbara, many girls in Brazil play on a boys' team (or wherever they can find inclusion) because a local girls team is not an option. According to 2013 figures from the U.S. State Department, 14 million women and girls play soccer in the United States. Only 400,000 play in Brazil.
Even with so little opportunity, Brazil has managed to mold a women's national team that can contend for titles at the top level.
Imagine if Brazil embraced the forgotten futebol and created places for these girls to play. Imagine if the "joga bonito" -- the beautiful game -- meant the beautiful game for all. And then imagine just how darn good Brazil will be when the country finally does embrace women playing, because the country does not lack for women with soccer talent (as Marta shows clearly).
What Brazilian women lack is acceptance. With acceptance comes opportunities. And with opportunities come numbers and, most importantly, hope. As Rosana, a veteran of the Brazilian women's team, told me so eloquently: "Dreams are like oxygen. You need them to breathe."
Here is hoping this World Cup will breathe life into the dreams of the many young girls yearning for acceptance in this country. And when it inspires these girls, may there actually be a place for them to chase that dream.
When that day comes, one Marta will become millions.